Irma Fast Dueck

The Conrad Grebel Review 28, no. 1 (Winter 2010)

In All Right Now, Timothy Geddert provides a significant resource for congregations and denominations engaged in discernment around ethical issues. His purpose is to help Christians use the Bible well in developing consensus around controversial issues, but his approach depends as much on a particular understanding of the church as it does on sound biblical interpretation. In good Anabaptist style, Geddert attempts to articulate a third or middle way between “liberal” and “conservative” approaches to dealing with issues currently polarizing the church.

Geddert begins by outlining essential biblical principles and understandings of exegesis and interpretation. The book is clearly oriented toward lay people, and the first part functions as a kind of basic introduction to biblical interpretation, succinctly organized into clear and manageable points. Geddert’s ability to distil complex issues connected to biblical hermeneutics is remarkable, making the insights of scholars such as Richard Hays accessible to an average lay person.

It isn’t long before the reader can’t help but wonder if this book about “using the Bible well” isn’t masquerading as a work on ecclesiology and what it means to be the church. This is, in my opinion, the book’s greatest strength – its understanding of scripture is rooted within a particular understanding of God’s covenant people, the body of Christ, the church; an understanding that resonates deeply within the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition but need not be exclusive to it.

Another strength connected to this understanding of the church as the interpretive community is that the author allows for the possibility that, even with the best of exegetical tools and hermeneutical sensibilities, agreement may not be possible and consensus may not be reached. However, a lack of consensus around an ethical question does not impede Geddert’s understanding of the church; that is, it need not be a sign of unfaithfulness. Geddert appeals to the early church, which continually had to find ways to live with the ambiguity around ethical issues, an uncertainty that is an inevitable part of all communal life.

In the second part of the book the author doesn’t hesitate to deal with some of the most challenging issues connected to homosexuality, loving enemies, possessions, and what might traditionally be called “church discipline” (issues notoriously difficult to gain consensus on). The examples used in this part of the book build on insights developed in the introductory section. For instance, the chapter on homosexuality is a kind of litmus test of the principles Geddert presents at the beginning. He acknowledges the complexity of issues related to homosexuality and engages them in ways that recognize both contemporary realities and the authority of scripture, which he acknowledges is not entirely clear on the matter. Geddert provides a very helpful outline of the spectrum of views and perspectives; however, the hermeneutical conundrum currently present in many Christian communities is not fully recognized. The participation of “homosexually affected” (Geddert’s term) persons in this hermeneutical community remains challenging, particularly as many continue to feel unsafe or shamed in the very communities that have nurtured and shaped them. Attention must be given to what kinds of practices are necessary in order to create hospitable communities of sufficient trust and safety that all members of the interpretive community can discern, and agree and disagree together, in love.

I was fortunate to hear Geddert give presentations on this book’s themes at Canadian Mennonite University’s Church in Ministry Seminars. His approach to Matthew 18, a text of significant influence on Anabaptist- Mennonite understanding of the church as a discipleship community, had a noteworthy impact on pastors attending the event. For many, Matthew 18 is synonymous with church discipline in general and excommunication in particular. According to the text, the sinner who refuses to acknowledge his or her wrong is “to be treated as a Gentile and tax collector,” which has normally been assumed to mean they should be separated from the community. It was a liberating word for participants at the conference, accompanied with an audible gasp, when Geddert asked them how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors (Matthew himself being a tax collector) and how this might be instructive for the church’s ministry. What does it mean for the church to persist with the Gentile and the tax collector, as Jesus persisted with them, in order that they too might know the reconciliation of God?

All Right Now is theologically practical and insightful, rich in wisdom, and honest in its engagement with issues. I appreciated the book’s approach, and I have recommended it to a number of pastors.

Irma Fast Dueck, Associate Professor of Practical Theology, Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, MB